OK, social media are important. A lot of effort is going into on-line marketing. I’m not totally convinced. Of course things evolve, but it does seem to me that the sort of attention you bring to social media and the sort of attention you bring to a (serious) book are wildly different, and that this is liable to be a permanent condition. Still, I do pick up a lot of the material I comment upon here from Twitter and e-mail, so I guess on-line book promotion may be worth something. Some book trailers on YouTube have been viewed by amazingly large numbers of people: maybe someone has some idea whether this has affected sales.
Potential authors keep being exhorted to grasp the future and look to their social media status before they waste any time trying to submit a proposal to a publisher. I suppose this could have some validity for trade publishing, but really what difference can your Instagram presence have on the success of your monograph on Rimbaud’s prosody or turbulent flow in fluids? I dare say if you put up a little video about turbulent flow on YouTube you can get some hits. Why wouldn’t I look at it? Having written this, of course I immediately had to go a-looking. I find that Simmy Sigma’s YouTube introduction to turbulent flow has apparently been viewed 17,734 times. He has a series of 60 YouTube videos on Fluid mechanics. But this isn’t really academic publishing is it? Over half a million people have watched Professor Terence Tao’s lecture on the gaps between prime numbers and The Scholarly Kitchen posts about this quite impressive factoid. Of course I don’t know if you have to watch the whole thing to be counted, so whether my brief visit has boosted the impressive total or not is uncertain. But isn’t the main reason for the popularity of this video the fact that it’s available on YouTube free of charge? It would be interesting to know what effect these views have had on sales of Professor Tao’s books. My brief watching of it is certainly not going to make me rush to Amazon (or my local bookstore) and buy An Introduction to Measure Theory. This liberal provision of information is absolutely appropriate for an organization like the the Institute of Physics, and nobody can fault an author for the generosity of providing free education. I just don’t see that this phenomenon bears any serious lessons for publishers: we don’t really be need to be told that free “sells” better than expensive.
If you are planning to write a trade book — a book which will, you hope, appeal to the thousands — then your social media status is obviously relevant. If nobody’s heard of you why would they buy your bit of fluff? However, if you are interested in writing a serious book — literary fiction, poetry, serious non-fiction, an academic monograph — I suspect that your social media status might be in inverse relationship to your likelihood to be successful. There’s absolutely no reason why the Professor Taos or Simmy Sigmas of this world shouldn’t continue to post free material on the internet. Providing free information to eager students is an altogether noble aim: it’s just not got too much to do with the publishing business.